Five People In Running Who Are “Paying It Forward”

Blog #2 – January 28, 2015


Coach Atwood is currently at work on his untitled book project on coaching distance runners. Check out for more ideas on distance training. He is the head indoor track and field coach at Middleborough High School, mentors the Wampanoag Road Runners, and has helped many high school runners realize their success with individual coaching. Have an idea for a blog post? Feel free to send him a note at

“Paying it forward” is a concept that involves you doing something good for someone in response to a good deed or gift you’ve received. Maybe that’s why I am taking the time to write this blog: many coaches, teaches, and people have reached out and helped me succeed. By paying it forward, you don’t pay the person back. Instead, you do something nice for someone else.

This year, as they have done the past, the following people have done exactly that. They are selfless in that ALL of them could be pursuing more lucrative means of earning a living with their skill sets. However, because they are wired a certain way and believe in a lifestyle that allows them to make a living but still give back to people who could benefit from their advice, wisdom, and experience, they’ve chosen their respective paths. In fact, my own high school track coach, Bob L’Homme, who made the list, is probably the inspiration for why I do what I do. He paid it forward as an underpaid Catholic school teacher and coach, going back to his alma mater and helping student-athletes grow and improve, not just as runners but individuals.

So without further adieu, here they are.

1) Todd Williams / Once an Olympic 10k athlete and arguably the best distance runner in the U.S., Todd moved into the role of tech representative for Asics once his running career was done, a natural move. However, feeling unfulfilled with the life of a traveling sales rep, he decided combine his other passion as a Black Belt in Brazillian Jiu Jitsu with his running experience and started,which is still sponsored by Asics. He now travels around the U.S. giving presentations teaching people to defend themselves and stay safe on the roads. I had the opportunity to hear him speak at Foundation Performance in Plainville, MA this past November at an event I organized for my running club. He and his partner, Lindsey gave a great clinic that made us all think about saftety and my runners left feeling they knew more about handling a dangerous situation. And, I will admit: “Pay It Forward” is a key phrase in Todd’s speech but like every great writer, I’d like to borrow it for my column today. It really stuck with me the last few months. Todd also Tweets at @RunsaferTodd. Check it out.

2) Bob L’Homme / Bishop Feehan / When I was a sophomore in high school, Coach L’Homme became a father for the first time when his son, Michael was born. At the time, I didn’t think much of it: he was my track coach and a History teacher at Bishop Feehan; I didn’t know much about the personal and financial responsibilities about raising a family. To be truthful, teacher salaries were not very lucrative then and I’m sure there was significant sacrifice there for him financially. Cut to thirty years later, I am now the father of three, an educator, and a coach and I now know my share about the enterprise of parenthood and responsibility. Bob has sacrificed much to help others. Sure, he’s Catholic and it is a theme in our religion but this “Pay it forward” idea goes much, much deeper. He has coached and taught so many individuals, students who have won state championships on teams and individually and spent hours at track meets all over the U.S.. He has done this for 30+ years at Feehan and shows no signs of letting up with his mission to help kids improve as runners and people. A few years ago, he started, a tool that provides ice-massages and is able to help loosen the muscles of athletes but he has begun to look at its effect on PT patients and even the elderly. The venture has not made him a millionaire but serves as another aspect in how he is helping others. He would certainly point to the coaches, the Sisters of Mercy, and teachers that helped him and that is why he is still paying it forward. Once every few years, he also organizes and directs the Kristen M. Ettensohn Memorial A-L’Homme-ni Meet to raise money for a scholarship for the late Feehan star runner who died of cancer after studying to be a doctor at Dartmouth. It benefits a Feehan student, once again paying it forward. He Tweets at @TheFroller.

3) Leo Manzano / Another Olympian on the list AND also the Silver Medalist the 2012 London Games in the 1500 meters. Why do I think Leo is paying it forward? I had the opportunity to meet and speak with him in the lobby of a Boston hotel following the New Balance games a year ago and his sense of helping others truly emanated from him as we spoke. He had lost his sponsorship with Nike despite being an Olympic silver medalist. The attribute that he possessed that inspired me most was his upbeat and positive outlook about his future. He was raising money by selling t-shirts on his website and used his celebrity in Austin, Texas to sponsor the Manzano Mile at an all-comers meet there. In fact, his work benefits the Austin Community Foundation, a non-profit youth and charitable program. His positive vibe paid off when attained sponsorship with Timex and Hookah One shoes within the next few months. He also won the U.S. 1500 meter title later in the year. I hope to shake hands again this February to congratulate him on his success. Check out: and @Leomanzano for his latest updates.

4) Latif Thomas / Now, here is a guy who could be a Division 1 Head Track and Field Coach, a television commentator, or a high-price national motivational speaker but he has chosen a different path. He actually turns down opportunities often in favor of helping his team and others locally. Latif was a successful sprinter for North Attleboro High School then went onto run on scholarship for UCONN. Sure, he could’ve continued on to the college ranks but he uses his skill set to pay it forward educating high school coaches and athletes with his knowledge and experience in teaching proper training methods. In an age where coaches hide their “top-secret strategies”, Latif shares just about everything he knows with people and although he runs a successful camp at Harvard University every summer, he chooses to still coach high school track and just do occasional speaking appearances at clinics. His desire is to provide knowledge to high school coaches so they can develop young student athletes in their programs. He Tweets at @latif_thomas and maintains: where you’ll find more free tips and advice because that’s how he does things. His two day clinic for athletes and coaches is July 18-19, 2015 at Harvard University. Personally, coming from a distance background, he is the first and only coach I’ve turned to for valuable advice to help me improve.

5) Butterfly Race Race Director, Lynda Cekala and Race Coordinator, Jeff LaPlante / After her daughter, Julia passed away at a young age from a rare kidney disease in 2003, Lynda, with the help of Jeff wanted to do something to preserve Julia’s memory. So, in 2005 they worked together, not only on the charitable foundation that was started with private funds, but also a popular 5k race in North Attleboro. Along with an auction and wine tasting in March every year, this August road race has “paid it forward” by maintaining Julia’s Garden and Playground in the WWI Memorial Park for the children of my town to enjoy. The race is entering its 9th year and provides kids races following the 5k to involved the entire community in a celebration of Julia’s life.

I could probably extend this list on and on but I really feel fortunate to know the people on this list. Maybe we can all learn from their examples and combine our passions and professions to help others and “pay it forward”.

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